Showing posts from February, 2008

Friday Round-Up

I haven't had much to say this week. I had two appointments for acupuncture this week, and my condition has improved dramatically. I also had a boost from my friend Parthy, who sent me a care package containing some natural anti-inflammatory supplements. Who knew that turmeric was good for treating inflammation? I also learned that fish oil is an effective anti-inflammatory agent. So, if you've had an injury accompanied by inflammation, the best thing to do is get down to Chapati for a fish curry. It's been six weeks since I woke up in intense pain from my herniated disk. At the emergency room on January 20, the doctor told me that 90% of cases clear up on their own in four to six weeks. Since then I've had two weeks of steroids (prednisone), two weeks of physical therapy (traction), and two weeks of acupuncture and herbal remedies. My question is: If I had simply done nothing, would I be exactly where I am now? Or: Have acupuncture and herbal remedies been t…

Minnesota's Religious Landscape

According to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Minnesota is one of the most religiously "mainline" states in the country. According to the survey, 32% of Minnesotans belong to traditional mainline Protestant churches, as opposed to 18% nationally. The percentage of Catholics is also higher than the national average in Minnesota (28% in Minnesota, 24% nationally). But the percentage of evangelicals is slightly smaller: 21% in Minnesota, 26% nationally.

Most mainline Protestants are, unsurprisingly, white (91%). Also not surprisingly, 50% of all evangelicals live in the South. According to the survey, Jews and Hindus are likely to be wealthier and better educated than members of other religions.

A Sign of Recovery

Here's a sign that I'm feeling a little better, at the end of five weeks of often debilitating pain. For the first couple of weeks, I was barely able to pour my cereal in the morning. This evening, I made pork tenderloin with morels and juniper berries, served on a bed of polenta. The wine in the photograph is a superb red Coteaux de Languedoc, Les Hauts de la Brune 2005, available at the Muni for $12. The pork tenderloin was adapted from the Stufatino di Maiale alla Boscaiola from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking (1982); I substituted fast-cooking pork tenderloin for the cubes of pork shoulder that Marcella recommends. Marcella Hazan is responsible for a huge number of fine meals that Clara and I have cooked since we were married in 1989, and More Classic Italian Cooking has, along with The Joy of Cooking, been the most indispensable cookbook in our large cookbook collection. The book itself was a gift to Clara from her brother and sister-in-law when s…

A Hyperlinked Saturday

Yesterday was one of those late winter days that seems to hold the promise of spring. The sky was clear and the temperature soared into the mid-20s. In the morning, we walked down to the Northfield Arts Guild to check out the all school art exhibit (Peter has an artwork on display) and listen to the 8th grade brass octet (with Peter on trombone) play in the downstairs dance studio. All of this was part of the NAG's "Imagination Celebration." It was the kind of Saturday that, in England, would have sent Clara and me out on an hour-and-a-half walk across fields of wheat, rape, and sheep to one of our favorite country pubs, the Tipperary Inn. Instead, in the afternoon, we walked circuitously around town for an hour until we arrived at the Contented Cow. After a quick pint of Belhaven, we walked to Just Food Coop to buy ingredients for salade niçoise; we also bought a baguette, some good French camembert, and smoked oysters. At the Muni, we picked up a chilled bottle …


Megan Fox in Transformers. Just one of the reasons the movie didn't suck.

Every now and then, there will be something I'm expecting to hate that I end up loving. It happened big time with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it's happened on a much smaller scale with some of the music Will and Peter listen to. Beck, for instance. It happened again last night with the movie Transformers.I certainly wasn't expecting to like a movie "based on Hasbro's Transformers"—toy robots that transform into cars, and vice versa. How stupid does that sound? And it was directed by Michael Bay, the director of the widely-reviled Pearl Harbor and the laughably awful The Island. But Transformers turned out to be a highly entertaining couple of hours—just the right combination of extreme silliness, special effects, action, and Megan Fox. The movie itself was a kind of transformer: one minute a war movie (starring Josh Duhamel and Jon Voight), the next minute a teen romantic co…

Federalist Friday: Federalist 3 & 4

John Jay as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

John Jay (1745-1829) is one of those second-string Founders, like James Wilson or John Dickinson, who was undeniably important without being better known. He was conservative, dull, and rheumatic. His entry in the Oxford Companion to United States History is about as long as the five-inch column devoted to Jesse James on the facing page, and dwarfed by the entries on Jazz and Jefferson that follow. He was known chiefly for his handful of contributions to the Federalist, for being the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and for negotiating one of America's most unpopular treaties (the 1795 "Jay's Treaty" with Great Britain). Because of his experience as a diplomat (he, Franklin, and Adams negotiated the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War), Hamilton recruited him to write about the advantages the new Constitution would give the United States in foreign affairs. Jay argues that a strong Union i…

More Birthdays

Today is the 276th birthday of America's first President, George Washington, born on February 22, 1732. Last year, on President's Day, Clara and I drove down the M40 toward Banbury, then headed east into rural Northamptonshire to visit Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of the Washington family. My original blog post about that visit is here. George Washington is still a hero of mine, untarnished by cynical college-educated liberalism. I have an old schoolroom reproduction of the Gilbert Stuart portrait in my study, looking over my shoulder as I write, and a few years ago I drove up to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the Lansdowne Portrait, which was temporarily on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In February 1970 (a month before George W. Bush joined the Air National Guard, three months before the invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent State), I was a kindergartner learning to use blunt-ended scissors by cutting out red Valentine&…


I don't like needles, so it says something about the level of pain and discomfort I've been experiencing that yesterday I had my first appointment for acupuncture. I was nervous and, as usual, my heart was beating fast. I was surprised that there was very little sensation from the insertion of the needles—except for one needle in my back, which stung. The acupuncturist was surprised by this. "Most people," she said, "don't feel the ones in their back." The only other pain was when she twitched the needles in my neck and hand to create a "strong sensation in the affected area." This caused, believe it or not, the sensation of being pricked by a pin. After the poking and twitching was over, I lay in the dark with waves of synthesizer music washing over me until I was almost relaxed. Relaxing is not my strong suit.

For the rest of the day, I was in an unusually good mood. In fact, I'm still in a good mood, despite a rather poor night&#…

Legendary Sandwiches

The Baguette Barge, Stratford-upon-Avon.

As fond as I am of Northfield's own Hogan Brothers, where I always have a half combo with everything (heated), I still look back fondly at my graduate student days in Providence, Rhode Island (1986-1990) as the golden age of sandwiches. My two favorite sandwiches of all time were:

1. Turkey, bacon and swiss from the Silver Truck. After pitchers of Schaeffer ("the one beer to have when you're having more than one") at the GCB (Graduate Center Bar), nothing cleansed the palate like turkey, bacon and swiss (with lettuce, tomato and mayo on a grinder roll) from the Silver Truck.

2. Hot pastrami and swiss with Shedd's sauce at the Meeting Street Café. Unlike the Silver Truck, the Meeting Street Café is still around. I've never seen nor heard of Shedd's sauce outside of Providence. It's a blend of mayonnaise, dijon mustard and horseradish. It's the perfect accompaniment for hot pastrami.

Those were the days. …


William Howard Taft.

While we're waiting for the two hundredth birthdays of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln next February 12th, here are a few centennials we can celebrate in 2008:

Mother's Day. The first Mother's Day was celebrated on May 10, 1908.
The Model T. Henry Ford rolled out his first Model T on September 27, 1908.
The Cubs Win the World Series. The Chicago Cubs clinched their most recent World Series championship on October 14, 1908, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 1. 1908 was also the year that Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics for the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The infield of the 1908 Cubs was anchored by the famous double play combination of Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B) and Frank Chance (1B): "Tinker to Evers to Chance."

We've already missed the 100th birthday of the Boy Scouts, on January 24. It was also one hundred years ago this November that William Howard Taft was elected President, marking the Republican …

Publication Alert

I just finished correcting the proofs for a 24-page article that, through the time-bending magic of academic publishing, is forthcoming in the Summer 2007 issue of the International Journal of the Classical Tradition, published by the Institute for the Classical Tradition at Boston University. The article is titled: "'A Mirror of the Times': The Catilinarian Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century British and American Political Thought." I know you will all be rushing out to get your own personal copy!

Catiline, in case you've forgotten, was a dissolute Roman aristocrat who, in 64 BCE, launched a conspiracy to overthrow the republican government in Rome, attempting to win the people to his side with promises of debt relief. When the conspiracy was unmasked, some the conspirators were captured and, after a debate in the Senate, executed on the orders of the consul for that year, Marcus Tullius Cicero. In the Senate debates, Cicero delivered his most famous speeches, t…

A Brief History of Pain

Opium poppy (papaver somniferum)

This is the end of my fourth week of pain from a herniated disk in my neck. Physical therapy has improved my condition, and ibuprofen* has helped quite a bit with the pain. This whole experience has made me think with wonder and horror about the days before modern pain killers and anaesthesia. Pain must have been much more a persistent part of daily life in, for example, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1790, for instance, Thomas Jefferson hosted a famous dinner party for Hamilton and Madison while suffering from a month-long migraine headache. Acetylsalicylic acid wasn't synthesized until the 1850s, and didn't become commercially available as aspirin until the beginning of the twentieth century. In Jefferson's day, willow bark, which contains naturally-occurring salicylic acid, was sometimes used as an analgesic, but the most common painkiller was opium. Jefferson grew opium poppies (papaver somniferum) in his garden at Mont…


I forgot to mention that Tuesday was the birthday of Charles Darwin. You still have a little time left to celebrate Darwin Days. Tuesday was also Lincoln's birthday. Two of the very greatest figures of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, were born on exactly the same day: February 12, 1809.

Federalist Fridays: Federalist 1 and 2

The constitutional convention that met in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787 was composed primarily of men who favored a consolidation and strengthening of the federal government to replace the loose confederation of sovereign [1] and independent states existing under the Articles of Confederation. The case of New York was a little different. New York sent three delegates to the convention. Alexander Hamilton was one of the most ardent supporters of a strong central government, but the other two delegates, John Lansing and Robert Yates, had been chosen by the populist New York governor, George Clinton, as foils for Hamilton, because they were strong supporters of state sovereignty who would oppose a new Constitution.

After the Constitution was signed in September 1787 (only Hamilton from New York signed it), the document went to state conventions for ratification. Anticipating a hard-fought battle in New York’s convention, Hamilton enlisted James Madison of Virginia and Joh…

My First Poem

I wrote this in fifth grade, after I read Jack London's story "To Build a Fire." It's a poetic rewriting of the story, leaving out the crucial gross part. A couple of years later, when I was in seventh grade, my Mom signed me up for a writer's workshop one Saturday morning down at the Women's Community Center in Ithaca (New York). The other poets were, of course, middle-aged women. We sat in a circle and shared our poems. Some of the women read lesbian love poetry, comparing their lovers to the sea and themselves to the shore. I, a little red-headed twelve-year old, read my "To Build a Fire" poem. The women graciously gave me a standing ovation. I was on my way to becoming a poet!

"To Build a Fire"

Cold and dreary, weak and weary
I roam the frozen North,
To and fro the wind does blow
As slowly I trudge forth.
Day and night, I try to light
A warm and blazing fire:
It goes out, in vain I shout,
And then I start to tire.
It’s eighty below and t…

The Federalist Challenge

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay: the authors of The Federalist.

Some bloggers have blogs that focus primarily, sometimes exclusively, on their reading. Many reading bloggers also participate in reading challenges, which challenge participants to read a certain number of books in a fixed amount of time. The challenges are usually organized around a theme, such as John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge, which challenges participants to read 13 books by Canadian authors by Canada Day 2008 (July 1). Why thirteen books? Because there are 13 Canadian provinces. There's also a Nineteenth Century Women Authors Challenge, an Outmoded Authors Challenge, an Expanding Horizons Challenge—basically, there's a reading challenge for everyone.

Here's my reading challenge. It's a personal challenge, but you're welcome to join in if, for some unearthly reason, the idea appeals to you. My challenge is to spend the rest of 2008 reading The Federalist, that great an…

Mark Twain in Motion

One of the things always mentioned in descriptions of Mark Twain, along with his slow Missouri drawl, was his "rocking and rolling gait." The way he walked was a distinctive part of his persona, but it's something nearly impossible to recover. But here is a tantalizing glimpse of Mark Twain in action, captured on film by Thomas Edison in 1909, the last year of Twain's life. In the first half of the short film, Twain is walking around his home in Redding, Connecticut, which he named Stormfield. The house, in the Tuscan style, was designed for him by the architect John Mead Howells, the son of Twain's closest friend in the literary world, novelist and critic William Dean Howells. Twain moved into Stormfield (originally called "Innocence at Home") in June 1908. In the second half of the film, Twain is playing cards and drinking tea on the loggia with his two surviving daughters, Clara (center) and Jean (right). Jean was epileptic, and died (from an …

Alumni Magazine Blues

Do you ever find yourself getting a little depressed when your alma mater's alumni magazine arrives in the mail? Do you ever open it up and read about your classmates' accomplishments and wonder what you've done with your life?

The latest Brown Alumni Magazine. On the cover is Alicia Sacramone, '10, one of the top-ranked gymnasts in the world, and a favorite for a medal in Beijing.

The Brown Alumni Magazine arrived today. Inside there was a little review of the latest film starring the talented and lovely Laura Linney (Class of 1986). I never crossed paths with Laura Linney at Brown; I didn't arrive as a graduate student until the fall of 1986, after she had graduated. I did briefly live next door to Amy Carter, and one day as I was hurrying to class in the art building I turned a corner and crashed into Geraldine Ferarro's daughter. But I'm getting off the subject. The point is that Laura Linney (born Feb. 5, 1964; nine months older than me) has three…

The Grammys

No, I didn't watch the Grammys last night. Are you kidding? I can't imagine anything more boring than a televised awards show. Last night, we had a choice between the first part of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice on Masterpiece Theater, our Netflix DVD of Hairspray, or a pair of season six episodes of Buffy. The boys cast the deciding vote, and we watched Buffy.

This morning, I glanced at the Grammy winners list. The only thing on the entire list that I'd heard is the Plain White T's song "Hey There Delilah." (There used to be a YouTube video of Will singing it on the school radio station in Kenilworth.) The song lost in the Song of the Year category. Otherwise, it was as if the entire year in music had passed me by. Springsteen won in a couple of categories, but the last Springsteen album I bought was Tunnel of Love back in 1987. Steve Earle won for Best Contemporary Folk album, but the last Steve Earle CD I bought was Jerusalem bac…

The Acts of the Apostles

“Ladies and gentlemen, circumcised and uncircumcised…”
Peter warmed up the crowd with tongues of flame, told jokes,
performed a few small miracles—though the hecklers in the crowd
kept demanding resurrections. Backstage, Paul was getting loose,
juggling his rubber balls—first three, then four, then five at once
(one ball was Faith and another, Love): and if he dropped a ball,
it bounced, and he knew how to make it seem intentional.
Harder still were the knives: he had to make it appear graceful,
the steel blades flashing, the fine-honed edge of redemption.
But nothing in his act was harder than juggling the spirit and the law—
he couldn’t do it like Jesus did, making everything seem
equally light. A scattering of applause, and Peter stepped off stage
wiping the sweat from his brow. “It’s a tough crowd,” he said,
as Stephen stepped out to deliver his dramatic monologue.
It wasn’t long before the boos and the beer bottles thrown on stage.
Paul was trying to remember the one about the two Corinthi…

Song of the Day

The Police, "King of Pain"


I'm so bored with this herniated disk problem. I'm bored with the pain, I'm bored with the treatment, I'm bored with lying around in my pajamas, I'm bored with the boring blog posts that have resulted from my extended convalescence. Last night, I was in too much pain to join Clara for dinner with a pair of Carleton trustees, so I stayed home and, in the depths of my boredom, watched television. I watched a show called Bones for the sole reason that it starred David Boreanaz; I watched House; I watched an unspeakably awful show called Numb3rs.

Numb3rs appears to be about a college math professor who helps his FBI agent brother solve murders. The murders (committed by a numerology-obsessed serial killer/tattoo artist who thought he was Jesus) were gruesome, but the worst thing about the show was the depiction of college professors. Hollywood college professors are all incredibly good-looking, like Andrea Roth (left), who played a professor of numerology (!) on las…

Happy Birthday Sinclair Lewis

Today is also the birthday of Sinclair Lewis, born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885. Lewis is known for his novels Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and It Can't Happen Here, and was America's first Nobel Prize winner in literature. He was recommended for the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Main Street, but the trustees of the prize awarded it to Edith Wharton for The Age of Innocence instead. A few years later, Lewis turned down the Pulitzer for his novel Arrowsmith. I visited Sauk Centre a few years ago. I had a peak at Lewis's boyhood home, had a beer at the Palmer House Hotel (where Lewis was fired from his first job), and stayed in the Gopher Prairie Motel. An account of that visit went into my essay "Sinclair Lewis's Work of Art," published in the New England Review in 2004 (volume 25, number 3). For an excellent biography of Sinclair Lewis, check out Richard Lingeman's Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street.

Happy Year of the Rat

On Tuesday, my first session of traction left me feeling well enough to dip into the 50 lb. bag of flour which has sat unopened in the kitchen since the middle of January. I was able, with relatively little pain, to mix and knead dough for broccoli sfinciuni, which has long been one of my vegetarian son's favorite meals. Sfinciuni is essentially a double-crust pizza, stuffed, in this case, with broccoli and ricotta cheese. The broccoli is steamed first, then sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic. For a little added flavor, I kneaded garlic and oregano into the dough, and sprinkled grated parmesan and kosher salt over the top crust before putting the sfinciuni into the oven. For those of you keeping track at home, that 50 lb. bag has now made the equivalent of two pizza crusts (about four cups of flour).

Who knows when I'll be able to bake again. I had an excellent night's sleep on Tuesday night, but I came back from my second session of traction yesterday with a c…

Caucus Recap

Last night's caucus was unbelievable. Clara and I headed out to the Northfield Middle School at about 6:25, and hit bumper-to-bumper traffic about half a mile before we reached the school. Instead of continuing on to the middle school parking lot, we turned off early and parked in the still-empty lot at the nearby elementary school. By the time we returned to the car 45 minutes later, that lot was entirely full, too. We walked the rest of the way to the middle school, passing dozens of cars as they crawled along the road. When we arrived at the school, we stood in line for more than half an hour before we reached the sign-in table and received our ballots. According the Minnesota secretary of state's caucus results website, 3,102 votes were cast at our caucus location last night. Of those votes, 2,201 were for Obama, and 870 were for Clinton. In our precinct, which includes Carleton College, Obama captured nearly 85% of the vote. College students, availing themselves …

Caucus Day

Today is Super Tuesday, and Minnesota is one of the states where Democrats will allocate national delegates based upon this evening's voting. Minnesota has a caucus system, although it is possible to show up, submit a Presidential preference ballot, and then go home. In my condition, that's what I may do. The rest of the evening is usually spent in discussing resolutions to be submitted to the state party convention, and in choosing delegates to the county convention.

As a warm-up for tonight's caucuses, the Carleton College Democrats hosted a rally at Sayles-Hill campus center, featuring a special appearance by Scarlett Johansson. She spoke for 5-10 minutes, then took questions. The first question was: "What did Bill Murray whisper to you at the end of the movie?" She said, "He told me to vote for Obama." She didn't give a polished presentation, but seemed to be speaking sincerely and passionately about a candidate who has captured her imagin…

Physical Therapy

Cervical traction, similar to the treatment I received this morning.

I began physical therapy this morning with Ann at Northfield's Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. The bulk of the appointment was taken up with fifteen minutes of cervical traction, in an attempt to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve in my neck. This is the best I've felt in more than two weeks, so I'm cautiously optimistic. I have five more appointments scheduled between now and next Friday. Wish me luck!

Professor TiVo

Today's Rutland (Vermont) Herald features an excellent profile of my brother-in-law Jason, a newly-tenured assistant professor of American Studies and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College. Jason is my sister Ruth's husband. He has what his nephews Will and Peter consider the coolest job on the planet: the academic study of television and video games. He's perhaps the world's foremost expert on Dragnet, and has written extensively on Lost, The Wire, The Simpsons, and other shows. If you're interested in television and American culture, you'll be interested in what Jason has to say.

Rerun: Candlemas (February 2)

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.
(ca. 1500)

In the Christian calendar, Candlemas is the festival of the Purification of Mary and commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was also traditionally the day on which the church candles for the year were blessed. The day also coincides with the beginning of the lambing season, marked by a pagan festival known as Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day. The original European superstition was that fair weather on Candlemas meant another forty days of winter.

In England, Candlemas is also the season of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), which are sometimes known as Candlemas bells. The snowdrops pictured here were blooming near the Inchford Brook ford, southwest of Kenilworth, at the end of last January. Snowdrops appear to be garden escapees in England; they were often planted in monastery gardens, and evidently are still found on the sites of ruined monasteries. Snowdrops, incidentally, are believe…


AAA BATTERIES: Bought a 4 pack of AA batteries, realized I need AAA! Want to trade? sanzonek.

ARCHNEMESIS wanted for amusement through enmity. Be at odds, match wits, plot my downfall! Hero-villain roles flexible. Hatred strictly professional. Apply: christja

From the NNB (Noon News Bulletin) at Carleton College, Thursday, January 31, 2008.